The problem with limitless landmarking

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The city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission is poised to impose protected status on six sites that staffers say played a critical role in the gay-rights movement and may do the same with five buildings said to “represent” the historical contributions of the old sheet-music-publishing business, aka Tin Pan Alley. This is fresh proof that the whole landmarking process needs to change.

The “gay history” preservation impacts the old home of writer James Baldwin and the buildings where off-off-Broadway were born. But few claim the buildings themselves are anything special or even intrinsically evocative of that history. The same is true of Tin Pan Alley.

We were all for landmarking — on a city, state and federal level — the Stonewall Inn, because it marks a widely understood historic moment. But you have to draw a line at sites of major significance or you’re simply pandering to special interests at the expense of current owners, whose properties routinely lose value from landmarking.

It’s rather telling, in fact, when no one’s willing to raise donations for a nonprofit to pay market price and preserve a “historic” site.

A response to the foolish demolition of the old Pennsylvania Station, the landmark commission’s mission is to prevent mindless destruction. But a mandate to preserve buildings with architectural, historical and/or cultural significance has proven prone to abuse.

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